Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a 6,000 word document which outlined his vision for how The Social Network can be used for good, and help to build a truly global community. Within that, Zuckerberg made specific note of how he'd been personally affected by seeing Facebook Live used by a young girl who committed suicide on the stream.
As explained by BuzzFeed:
"Working on this issue seems personal for the Facebook CEO, who became upset discussing a recent incident on the platform. "A few weeks ago, a girl livestreamed killing herself," he said. "It's hard to be running this company and feel like, okay, well, we didn't do anything because no one reported it to us."
You can understand how such actions would weigh on the platform's CEO - and as such, Zuckerberg also outlined the platform's renewed focus on detecting and addressing such actions before they reach tragedy, highlighting an expanded use of artificial intelligence and machine learning for this purpose.
And now, Facebook's delivering on that pledge, announcing a range of new tools to help people at risk of suicide, with a specific focus on live-stream content.
The new tools made available will include:
- Integrated suicide prevention tools to help people in real time on Facebook Live
- Live chat support from crisis support organizations through Messenger
- Streamlined reporting for suicide, assisted by artificial intelligence
As explained by Facebook:
"Facebook's in a unique position - through friendships on the site - to help connect a person in distress with people who can support them. It's part of our ongoing effort to help build a safe community on and off Facebook."
These options add to the pre-existing on-platform tools and resources to provide assistance to at-risk users, with a support team operating 24/7 to help as required.
For Facebook Live specifically, Facebook's adding new options for live-stream viewers to reach out to the broadcaster directly, or to report the video to Facebook if they have any concerns.
"The person sharing a live video will see a set of resources on their screen. They can choose to reach out to a friend, contact a help line or see tips."
In addition to these new measures (and as noted), Facebook's also increasing the capacity for people to connect with crisis support partners over Messenger, and they're expanding their use of artificial intelligence and pattern recognition in posts to detect content which is likely to include thoughts of suicide.
That last measure could be an extremely important initiative - through the use of machine learning, Facebook's looking to identify key patterns and behaviors in order to get in early with preventative measures.
As reported by BuzzFeed:
"The AI scans the posts and their associated comments, compares them to others that merited intervention, and, in some cases, passes them along to its community team for review. The company plans to proactively reach out to users it believes are at risk, showing them a screen with suicide-prevention resources including options to contact a helpline or reach out to a friend."
That system is functioning at a high rate - Facebook says their AI detection process is already more accurate than the reports they get from humans that are flagged as 'suicide and self injury'.
Suicide is one of the biggest societal concerns - there's a death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds, and it's the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. According to experts, one of the best ways to prevent suicide is for those in distress to hear from people who care about them.
Given the data, and the potential for Facebook - and social platforms more widely - to enable such connection, it's important that everyone takes a moment to consider how they can contribute to such efforts. Maybe there's no immediate way for you to step in and help, but even taking a second to make a person's day better, by stopping to help out rather than walking away, you can help contribute to the greater good.
Any effort can be beneficial on this front, and Facebook deserves both praise and support for working to provide more tools for assistance.
You can read more about Facebook's suicide prevention efforts here.